Will other states fol­low Cal­i­for­nia on clean en­ergy?

Lodi News-Sentinel - - BUSINESS - By Sammy Roth

It’s been less than four months since Cal­i­for­nia com­mit­ted to get­ting all of its elec­tric­ity from cli­mate­friendly sources by 2045. But the idea is already catch­ing on in other states.

At least nine gov­er­nors tak­ing their oaths of of­fice this month, from Ne­vada to Michi­gan to New York, cam­paigned on 100 per­cent clean en­ergy, or have en­dorsed the tar­get since it was en­shrined in Cal­i­for­nia law. The Dis­trict of Columbia also set a 100 per­cent clean en­ergy goal last month. So did Xcel En­ergy, a Minneapolis-based util­ity that serves 3.6 mil­lion elec­tric­ity cus­tomers across eight West­ern and Mid­west­ern states.

The policy’s grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity is driven in part by mar­ket trends and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances that make it eas­ier to en­vi­sion a fu­ture in which fos­sil fu­els are no longer burned for elec­tric­ity. But ex­perts say Cal­i­for­nia’s re­cent pas­sage of Sen­ate Bill 100 is also playing a role.

“Some­times other states don’t want to ad­mit that they’re look­ing to Cal­i­for­nia for lead­er­ship. But they re­ally are,” said Carla Frisch from the Rocky Moun­tain In­sti­tute, a Colorado-based think tank that has worked with cities and states on en­ergy policy.

As the world’s fifth-largest econ­omy, Cal­i­for­nia wields enor­mous power to in­flu­ence en­vi­ron­men­tal policy na­tion­ally and even glob­ally. The state’s ac­tions have re­shaped how in­dus­tries do busi­ness, changed peo­ple’s habits and set the agenda for other states and coun­tries. Au­tomak­ers, for in­stance, have been forced to build in­creas­ingly fuel-ef­fi­cient cars for decades be­cause of Cal­i­for­nia’s au­thor­ity to set tailpipe-emis­sion rules stricter than those of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

The Golden State’s ag­gres­sive poli­cies can also prompt a back­lash. In the four-plus years since Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers voted to ban sin­gleuse plas­tic bags at most stores, nine states have passed laws block­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments from en­act­ing such bans.

Cal­i­for­nia’s role as a global leader was front of mind of then-state Sen. Kevin de Leon as he crafted the 100 per­cent cli­mate-friendly en­ergy leg­is­la­tion. The Los Angeles Demo­crat had pre­vi­ously writ­ten a bill rais­ing the state’s clean en­ergy tar­get to 50 per­cent by 2030. But within a few years, it had be­come clear the state could meet that goal far sooner than ex­pected, with­out the mas­sive eco­nomic dis­rup­tion op­po­nents had pre­dicted.

“Cal­i­for­nia has long shown the rest of the na­tion how to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment while grow­ing the econ­omy,” De Leon said. “If Cal­i­for­nia can do it, ev­ery­one else can.”

What’s unique about 100 per­cent clean en­ergy, sup­port­ers say, is that it’s caught on with law­mak­ers and the pub­lic in a way other cli­mate change poli­cies haven’t.

Many economists say a mar­ket-based tool that puts a price on planet-warm­ing car­bon emis­sions is the cheapest way to fight cli­mate change. But even in places with broad sup­port for cli­mate ac­tion, it’s been dif­fi­cult to build sup­port for those types of poli­cies. Vot­ers in Washington state, for in­stance, over­whelm­ingly re­jected a car­bon tax in 2016 and again in 2018.

How a tax on car­bon has di­vided North­west cli­mate ac­tivists »

Adam Brown­ing, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Oak­land­based ad­vo­cacy group Vote So­lar, cited a com­mon re­frain among cli­mate ad­vo­cates — that the only two prob­lems with a car­bon tax are “car­bon” and “tax.” No­body likes taxes, and most peo­ple don’t have strong feel­ings about car­bon.

A 100 per­cent clean en­ergy policy, on the other hand, is sim­ple and fo­cused on pos­i­tive change, Brown­ing said. Sup­port­ers can high­light the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits of cleaner air, job creation and cut­tingedge tech­nolo­gies.

“It’s ex­cit­ing to be a part of, it speaks to val­ues, it speaks to solutions, and it speaks to things peo­ple like. And it has over­whelm­ing bi­par­ti­san sup­port,” Brown­ing said.

The con­cept didn’t orig­i­nate in Cal­i­for­nia. Hawaii be­came the first state to pass a 100 per­cent clean en­ergy man­date in 2015, and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Ore­gon Demo­crat, in­tro­duced fed­eral leg­is­la­tion to that ef­fect in 2017. More than 100 cities have en­dorsed the con­cept, ac­cord­ing to the Sierra Club, as have 150 ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions that are part of the RE100 coali­tion.

But in the months since Cal­i­for­nia passed its 100 per­cent clean en­ergy man­date, the idea has gained sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal mo­men­tum.

Vot­ers in Colorado, Con­necti­cut, Illi­nois, Maine, Michi­gan, Ne­vada and Wis­con­sin elected new gov­er­nors in Novem­ber who signed a pledge from the League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers to sup­port 100 per­cent clean en­ergy by 2050. In sev­eral states, the new gov­er­nors mark a dra­matic shift from their pre­de­ces­sors.

In Maine, for in­stance, Demo­crat Janet Mills has re­placed Repub­li­can Paul LePage, who issued a mora­to­rium on new wind tur­bines and ve­toed a bill to study how cli­mate change would af­fect the state.

In Ore­gon, vot­ers re­elected Gov. Kate Brown, who also signed the League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers’ 100 per­cent clean en­ergy pledge. In New Mex­ico, newly elected Gov. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham cam­paigned on a prom­ise of 80 per­cent re­new­able en­ergy by 2040 and has touted Cal­i­for­nia’s 100 per­cent clean en­ergy law as a suc­cess story. New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo also an­nounced his sup­port last month for 100 per­cent cli­mate-friendly en­ergy.

David Book­binder, chief coun­sel for the Niska­nen Cen­ter, a lib­er­tar­ian think tank in Washington, D.C., de­scribed the groundswell of sup­port for 100 per­cent clean en­ergy poli­cies as a “po­lit­i­cal trend” first and fore­most.

"These are all gov­er­nors who are Democrats, and they’re all try­ing to be pro­gres­sive. And say­ing ‘100 per­cent re­new­ables’ is money in the bank as far as their base is con­cerned,” Book­binder said.

The Niska­nen Cen­ter en­cour­ages politi­cians to sup­port a car­bon tax as an eco­nom­i­cally ef­fi­cient way to re­duce emis­sions. Still, Book­binder de­scribed the ex­pand­ing sup­port for 100 per­cent clean en­ergy as a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment in the fight against cli­mate change. It shows that the pub­lic is be­gin­ning to take the prob­lem se­ri­ously, he said, and that law­mak­ers see “po­lit­i­cal mileage” in com­mit­ting to am­bi­tious cli­mate ac­tion.


A view of wind tur­bines from High­way 14 in Cal­i­for­nia.

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